A town hall meeting in southwest Atlanta Tuesday night started quietly, with questions about potholes and affordable housing.
But those concerns took a back seat as Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields approached the microphone.
Suddenly the tone shifted.
Shields barely uttered two words before about 20 protesters packed inside Cascade United Methodist Church demanded answers in the shooting death of Jimmy Atchison at the hands of Atlanta police officer Sung Kim on Jan. 22.
“Why is Officer Kim still on the force?” one protester shouted. Protesters continued for about three minutes before officers swarmed the crowd and escorted them out of the church. The uproar raised concerns about policing in southwest Atlanta, an area that holds the city’s largest black population, and one sensitized to officer-involved shootings that involve black people.
Shields assured residents they were not being overlooked when it comes to the city’s policing efforts.
“It won’t happen under my watch,” she said. “I will fight to the bitter end to make sure people are treated fairly and equitably. You have my word.”
Shields’ message of reassurance was met with thunderous applause. Southwest Atlanta, known as Zone 4 for police patrols, has seen 84 violent crimes — which include murder, rape and aggravated assault — in the past 10 weeks, according to Atlanta police online data. By comparison, Buckhead, which sits in Zone 2, has seen 39 violent crimes in the same time period. Buckhead has recently been in the news as residents have complained of an increase in car thefts, armed robberies, and just plain thefts, but few have turned violent.
On Jan. 22, Atchison, a father of two, was shot as he hid in a closet, unarmed, according to witnesses. Atchison, wanted for an alleged armed robbery of a cellphone, had fled to a friend’s apartment in northwest Atlanta after heavily armed task force members appeared at his door.
He was shot by by Atlanta officer Sung Kim, who was assigned to a federal fugitive task force overseen by the FBI. Authorities have not said what prompted the shooting.
“The family’s frustration and heartbreak are exacerbated by the fact that Officer Sung Kim has not been fired by the city,” the Atchison family’s attorney Tanya Miller said. “(Atlanta police) do not need to wait for the FBI to do that.”
It is still unclear why Kim shot and killed Atchison, but Shields reassured the crowd: “I promise you there is no cover-up.”
For her part, Shields told residents at the meeting that she and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms met with Atchison’s family Monday and apologized for the lack of communication from the department.
“Sometimes when you screw up, the best thing you can do is fix it moving forward,” Shields said of Atlanta Police Department’s lack of communication with the family.
The shooting of Atchison took center stage for 1,200 residents packed inside the church. Protester Dominic Brown, 33, said he and other activists had contacted Shields and Bottoms for answers, but never received a response.
“We came out not to disrupt, but to bring awareness to a situation that was being ignored by the city,” he said.
Police officials say any answers on the case would have to come from the FBI, which is in charge of investigating the case because the officer was working with the FBI’s task force. An FBI spokesman said the agency is not commenting on Atchinson’s case.
Miller said the Atchinson’s family is grateful for the meeting with the police chief and mayor, but still have questions, including why Kim is still on the force.
Kim joined the Atlanta Police Department in 1993, and he has been the subject of two citizen complaints and six internal investigations, including the Atchison case, according to his personnel file. He remains on paid administrative duty and stripped of police powers pending the outcome of the investigations into his conduct.
“We believe the appropriate course of action, which we have taken, is to take his gun and badge, remove him from policing duties and place him in an administrative position,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Once investigations are complete, disciplinary actions can be considered, if appropriate.”
The FBI’s investigation into the shooting is ongoing. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office has launched its own investigation into the shooting.
— Staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this article.
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